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Unfulfilled dreams


Three miles south of Williamsburg, west of HIghway 149, sit 15 acres of land that Safe Haven of Iowa County is making payments on. The no-kill animal shelter hopes to build a permanent facility on this land one day, but has seven months to fund a center and build before its current lease expires.

Three miles south of Williamsburg sits 15 acres of land that represent a dream to Safe Haven of Iowa County. This plot is the land that Safe Haven is paying on and would turn into a dog park and support a $1 million deluxe 3,000 square foot shelter to house its 100 cats and 15 dogs, if Safe Haven had the money.

But the no-kill animal shelter does not have the money to build the shelter, let alone pay all of its vet bills, which it’s currently $8,000 behind on — a hard reality to face when you consider Safe Haven has seven months to raise the money and build on the site before its current lease expires.


Safe Haven, which started in a garage in 2005, has faced this problem before. It moved to its current site approximately three years ago, after outgrowing the garage. Safe Haven wasn’t sure where it would relocate, but then a rural farmer offered to allow the shelter to temporarily set up shop in his barn. Now that the farmer is attempting to sell the land by June of 2010, Safe Haven is learning not all country folk are animal lovers.

“The current landlords have been absolutely fantastic about letting us be here . . . but it’s really hard to sell your property when you have an animal shelter. Nobody wants to buy the land with one on it,” said Safe Haven Director Rinthea Satterlee.

Ten months ago it didn’t look like Safe Haven would be in this predicament. At the time, the shelter had beat out thousands across the country to make it into the top 20 semi-finalists in an online contest for a $1 million shelter makeover. Safe Haven wasn’t sure it would necessarily win the $1 million, but it never thought it would make it into the finalists, either, so volunteers had their hopes up. But the shelter did not win the makeover nor make it to the finalist round. The few thousand dollars Safe Haven got from being a semifinalist were spent on vet bills, which sometimes total up to $5,000 per month, and volunteers went back to the drawing board.

Safe Haven applied to be a contestant for ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” but didn’t receive a response. It entered into another online contest, which awards $1,000 monthly to shelters, but the Iowa County shelter saw no results.

After unsuccessful attempts to win big, Safe Haven is scaling back its vision, so it can still be around in seven months.

“At this point, we just want to put up a $150,000 building,” Satterlee said.

The $150,000 figure is an estimate Safe Haven volunteers arrived at, after stripping their $1 million dream shelter down to the basics: a restroom, kennels, enclosed and open areas for cats, utilities and possibly a washer and dryer. Absent from the plan is the dogwalk park, grooming facilities and cat and dog hotels the shelter had hoped to use as a secondary revenue source, since it currently only operates on donations.

“A boarding facility (cat and dog hotels) would be a huge source of revenue for us,” Satterlee said.


In the last five years, Safe Haven has rescued a total of 800 Iowa County cats and dogs from euthanization. Satterlee said she sees Safe Haven’s existence as vital to the well being of stray and abandoned animals in Iowa County, and 30 of 40 business professionals surveyed in a study measuring emotional and financial support of Safe Haven agree. But, the financial support is just not there.

“We have approached several of the bigger agencies, but their money is already allocated somewhere,” Satterlee said.

In the $7,000 survey, paid for by donations to Safe Haven and conducted by a Nebraska company, 30 business professionals said they might be willing to donate anywhere from $17,000 to $20,000 for a new structure. Satterlee said the identity of the professionals was kept anonymous in the survey results, though, and is not confident those are dollars that could be contributed now.

 “The feasibility study showed us people think very highly of us and respect what we do and there’s a level of urgency among those interviewed, but there’s not a lot of financial backing, because the economy sucks right now,” she said.

And Satterlee said Safe Haven is in need of a lot of support, because it is facing lack of funding, lack of expertise among volunteers and lack of resources when it comes to construction.

“We need to find a building and resources to put up a building. It’s essentially about finding some people in the area who can donate some time or services,” she said.

Satterlee said she is currently looking into United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants and loans to fund a building, but is uncertain of how much, if any, support there will be.

“I’m looking into how much money and pledge money we would need to guarantee just to be able to be eligible for a loan,” Satterlee said.

Satterlee, who holds a full-time job in addition to managing Safe Haven, claimed the majority of the other 15 active Safe Haven volunteers spend their time outside of work caring for some of the shelter’s 115 animals and theoir, leaving little time to focus on what will happen seven months from now.

“The people at Safe Haven are so busy taking care of the animals and processing the applications and just doing daily things that there aren’t a lot of people within that have the extra time,” she said. “We’re fundraising right now just to keep our doors open and when you’re so focused on that, you need a completely separate entity to work on that.”

The shelter may be caring for up to 115 animals at one time between its rural facilities and foster homes. When its average adoption rate is six animals per month, Satterlee said Safe Haven really breaks even.

“Adoption fees for dogs are $200 which cover, but if the dog’s been with you for three months, in food alone, you’ve already spent more than that,” she said.

UPDATED December 2, 2009 2:23 PM

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